I remember my grandfather (J.M.S. Baljon) as the keeper of his study, as a gardener who taught me the basics of that craft – and as an ambitious chess and bridge player. When I went to study religion studies at Leiden University, I knew I’d be meeting some of his old students and colleagues. He had been a professor of Islamic theology there, and I made sure I did not mention him to my teachers. I did not want his shadow on my own relationship with the teachers.
However, one day I mentioned it to one of my favourite professors. He told me that my grandfather had been a controversial person in the faculty, because he always had an outspoken opinion, but that he had also been universally respected because he could deal with conflict so well. That is: he spoke his mind, but respected whatever decision was made.
I like that. I admire that. And, being outspoken myself, I hope to emulate that.
In fact there are few things that tick me off more than issues being ignored. When Henk Spierenburg was still alive, he gave me lots of books. Through the grapevine I know there was a lot of gossip about this. Nobody talked to me about it to confirm or deny the accusations. Instead… there was just gossip. Had they confronted me with it, I might have told them that I was not interested (not like THAT anyhow) in a man older than my father. I could have told them that we never met outside the lecture room – we communicated solely by email. I could have told them that there was never a more disinterested spiritual teacher. He didn’t tell me what to think. He didn’t tell me what to do. He just gave me books. Lots of books.
The fact is, partly, that I’m just too insecure to want to have to guess at what people think of the weird things I come up with. I know it’s a strange combination: insecurity and living the independent life I lead. But it’s a fact, and I am really grateful to people who come out and say to me: I did not like you doing that. Or just: I totally disagree with you on that. In fact – some theosophists telling me just that today – had me smiling my biggest smile this week. The smile is there not because I enjoy being at odds with people, but because it breaks a pattern: they’re saying it out loud, to my face, instead of behind my back, through the grapevine.
So – I’ll ask you all a question I discussed with friends in high school: would you rather have criticism behind your back, or straight to your face? And my answer is: when it comes to essentials, please tell it to my face, which is probably (but I don’t remember) just what I said in high school.